Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Last weekend, seized with a sudden desire to Do Something Christmassy, I made my Christmas mincemeat. I don’t know why I’d been putting it off, because it took all of about an hour to make (including a trip to buy some suitable alcohol to put in it).

I used this recipe, but augmented it with some finely chopped granny smith apple, a good amount of chopped almonds and a few slugs of amontillado sherry. I also dug out the remains of last year’s version and added that to the mix (with a bit more sherry for good measure).

The resulting mixture, heady with fruity, nutty (and somewhat boozy smells) has sat on the kitchen bench all week while I thought about what to do next with it.

Yesterday morning, after spreading some on my toast (surprisingly good, but the toast does need to be buttered), I had an epiphany while thinking about gluten-free things I could make for a coealic friend. These fruity, nutty (and ever so slightly boozy) balls are the result.

Fruity snowballs
The consistency of these will depend on what your fruit mincemeat is like. Be prepared to adjust quantities accordingly so the initial mixture is firm enough to roll into balls, but still sticky enough to pick up the coconut coating. You could also use finely chopped nuts instead of coconut.

150g fruit mincemeat
60g ground almonds
60g dessicated coconut, plus another 50g for rolling
finely grated zest of an orange
1 tsp Cointreau or 1/2 tsp orange blossom water (optional)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until the mixture clumps. Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls, then roll in the extra dessicated coconut. Put in an airtight, covered container in the fridge. Makes about 15, depending on how much of the mixture you sample first.

Have a great weekend, everyone. x

If you were beamed to earth from another planet at the moment you’d think all humans did was eat, drink and be merry. While the period between mid-November and early January is fairly intense on that scale, it’s pretty much always the season of entertaining at our house. And I love it, I really do, except for perhaps that tense 15 minutes just before the entertainees arrive and I feel in a state of complete chaos.

This year, with two fairly major entertaining events scheduled chez nous in the next fortnight, I’ve decided to take control. Firstly, I’m going to delegate a lot more (sorry, invitees, I understand if you want to pull out now) and secondly, I’m going to have something up my sleeve that I prepared earlier.

These boozy figs are an excellent do-ahead option at this time of year, whether you’re holding a soiree or you’ve been invited to one by someone like me who wants you to cross town with dessert in your handbag. The recipe is of unknown provenance – it’s out of one of my mum’s notebooks – and it is very simple. I’ve a hunch it is just the thing for this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by the ever-lovely Karen of Lavender and Lovage (with able support from Kate at What Kate Baked) – in which dried fruit is the theme.

Boozy figs
You can whip these mulled figs together in five minutes before you go to work, then when you come home they’ll be all plump and juicy. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, serve them warm over a slab of posh vanilla ice cream., if you’re in the southern, add strawberries. If you’re really, really organised, put them in a lidded jar in the fridge and they’ll be good for several weeks.

400g dried figs, cut in half (use scissors)
500ml fruity red wine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 small orange, washed and halved
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 punnet of strawberries, washed and hulled (optional)

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and let bubble away for five minutes. Take off the heat and let cool. Then, either transfer to a bowl or jar, cover and put in the fridge. Or, if you’re planning to eat them in a few hours, add the strawberries before putting in the fridge. Serves six.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tea Time Treats

I realised, slightly late in the piece, that it was a bit irresponsible to post a recipe for something using homemade date syrup without actually sharing how to make it. So, without any further ado, here’s how to make date syrup at home.

Easy Homemade Date Syrup

Homemade Date Syrup
This is quite different to storebought date syrup, sometimes called date molasses, which is cooked down to a more syrypy consistency. The DIY version has a fresher, slightly less sweet taste – and it’s still good to eat by the spoonful.

1 cup (about 200g) dates, chopped
1 cups (250ml) boiling water

Put the dates in a small, heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water (add a little more if it doesn’t quite cover the dates). Cover and let stand overnight or for at least eight hours.
The next morning/when you get home from work, put the soaked dates and water into a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth and well combined.
Scrape this mixture into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

You know how lemon curd is always so painstaking to make, with all that double-boiler anxiety and fretful stirring? It doesn’t have to be that way.
I had an epiphany in the weekend after coming across Stephanie Alexander’s revolutionary method. As so often happens with The Cook’s Companion, I was looking up something else when I stumbled across her lemon curd recipe. In it, she dismisses the received wisdom that it needs gentle heat and patience and instead gives some short-cut instructions.

I was a bit nervous – it’s a bit like setting out on a half-marathon to have some geezer pop out from behind a bush and say, ‘look love, here’s a short-cut that will get you there in half the time’ – but I can confidently report that it works a treat. I’ll possibly never remember what I was looking for to start with, but with this kind of knowledge now under my belt I’m not too bothered.

Easy Way To Make Grapefruit Curd

Grapefruit Curd
Did you know that if you Google ‘grapefruit’ most links are for the ‘Grapefruit Diet’. I find this profoundly depressing. Instead, I’m prescribing a course of the Grapefruit Curd Diet. Try some of this on your toast and see if you don’t feel better about life. Don’t worry about the butter and eggs, think of the vitamin C! The recipe is adapted from the one mentioned above in The Cook’s Companion, one of my most used, most loved books.

4 free-range egg yolks
2/3 cup caster sugar
100ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (one or two grapefruits should do it)
finely grated zest of two grapefruits
60g butter, diced

Put the egg yolks and sugar in a small pot and beat together until well blended. Add the grapefruit juice and zest, and the butter. Put the pot over medium-high heat and stir constantly until it comes to simmering point. As soon as the bubbles appear, remove from the heat. Keep stirring for another minute or so, then pour into sterilised jars. Makes about 450ml. Refrigerate when cold.

Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘but what will I do with four egg whites’? I have the perfect answer for you, but you’ll have to wait until Friday. Put them in a plastic lidded container and freeze them while you await further instructions.

Happy Waitangi Day to fellow New Zealanders everywhere. Hope you are celebrating with some appropriate feasting, whether it’s pipis and paua, asparagus rolls and whitebait fritters, roast lamb or a hangi. Cheers!